After my last post kvetching (kvetching is Yiddish for a particular nagging kind of complaining) about junk food and all it’s assorted evil effects I decided to offer a little more of the alternative. Food is an adventure and no one exemplifies this better than Anthony Bourdain. I discovered Anthony while working as an estate manager for a woman who was a true foodie and faithfully watched his show on the Food Network. I think of him as the Indiana Jones of food exploration. I admired and identified with his adventures in dining on unusual foods in unusual places, having had some adventures in dining myself while in places like Japan, Korea, Mexico and Jamaica. I think an outlook like Anthony’s is a good solution to a lot of food problems.
I worked or volunteered as an ESL teacher at various times over the last forty years. When career demands limited my travel, and I could no longer emulate my hero, my English students allowed me to continue my culinary explorations from home. While I taught them to avoid the the pitfalls of English my students taught me about their native foods. No one is happier than when you eat and enjoy the food they grew up with and love. I could always get shy or reluctant students to start talking if I asked them to tell me about food from home. And after many iterations of “Really? You want to try?” presents of food became the way to thank the teacher.
This is one place I learned about the diversity in Mexican food. I got recipes for real mole sauces. There is an enormous variety and they ca be used with all kinds of foods. When I still made a Thanksgiving turkey, the leftover turkey went into tamales and enchiladas with mole sauce. I learned how to prepare nopales, prickly pear pads. Admittedly, they are not for everyone, like okra they can be slimy. But my Mexican students loved that I loved them, they are considered Mexican’s Mexican food. I like them with scrambled eggs for breakfast and in salad. They can be work to do from scratch but they do have them in jars.
I’ve had students from Iran, Saudi Arabia and Egypt give me recipes. Saudis use a lot of hot sauce, not something you hear about much. The shattah is a little different than some hot sauces. I had to get the shattah recipe to go with the kabsa (Saudi chicken and rice). Of course these recipes were provided after I was served the dishes. As was the Egyptian felafel or ta’meya. Egyptian felafel is made from fava beans, different from the Lebanese felafel most people are used to. I had an Iranian roommate at university who was delighted to find I had a rice cooker and a crock pot in the dorm room. I learned all the wonderful things Iranians add to rice. Jeweled rice is usually served at weddings but I make it for a meal. Iranians eat a lot of delicious vegetable stews, so with the rice cooker and the crock pot we never had to eat the dorm cafeteria food. Chicken steamed up nicely in the rice cooker, too.
This got me looking at other similar dishes from Pakistan, Afghanistan and the Caucasus regions. I had some Afghan students and they were delighted to share their food and recipes. Afghanistan is in he middle of everything and the food has Persian, Indian, Chinese and Mediterranean influences all rolled into one cuisine. A lot of Americans are afraid they will have to give up meat to be healthy but these cuisines use meat in healthy proportions and cooked in healthy ways. Afghans, like Indians use tandoori ovens. Tandoori cooks quickly at high heat but does not create charring like regular grilling and it’s far healthier than frying.
It is possible to buy a tandoori oven but they may be hard to find and you can’t use on e in an apartment, for example. On the other hand, a rice cooker is not a staple in most American homes I’ve been in, but they are compact and easy to find. Steaming is a very healthy way to cook and it’s also a time saver for those who say they have no time to prepare healthy food. You put in the ingredients, add water, close the top and push the start button. No greasy mess, no hot stove to stand over and you can do something else while it cooks. The experiments I did with my Iranian roommate showed me how versatile and convenient this can be. I have since steamed fish in one. Also, having one is great if gluten sensitivity or intolerance affects a household member, as rice is gluten free.
So I offer this as an alternative to my just kvetching. Explore the world through food, have fun, get healthy, and eat well. This teacher learned as much if not more than she taught and my lessons were far more delicious than those of my students.